Last week I was invited down to Santa Monica to the offices of Jerry Bruckheimer Films to check out the brand new trailer for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which is set for a release date of May 28, 2010 (CLICK HERE to watch both the domestic and international trailer for the film). Of course, we weren't invited all the way down to the west side just to watch a trailer before anyone else, we got to talk to two of the men responsible for bringing this film to the big screen. Jordan Mechner created the original video game in 1989 and also the more recent games from Ubisoft (which serve as more of a basis of the film than the original game, as he will explain), and he also wrote the original drafts of the script and serves as the executive producer. Mechner was also responsible for getting his video game to Jerry Bruckheimer, the non-stop hit-making producer who helped redefine the movie blockbuster.
After watching the trailer, both Mechner and Bruckheimer sat down with the assembled press corps to answer questions about this new film. Here's what they both had to say.
Jerry Bruckheimer and Jordan Mechner
How is the 1989 original game a starting point for these wonderful parkour-esque moves here?
Jordan Mechner: I think you said that exactly right. It was a starting place. I did the best I could on side-scrolling Apple II, the excitement of running and jumping and it was really from the first 10 minutes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, was the immediate inspiration for the first game. I think the movie, as you've seen, goes very far beyond that.
With a lot of game adaptations that have happened in the past, one of the big digressions is they throw out everything about the game and change aesthetic choices. It looks like, with the Sands of Time and the acrobatic moves of the characters, it looks like you've really incorporated a lot of the actual gameplay styles directly into what you've done on film. Is that something that was important to you, to maintain what is the character of Prince of Persia?
Jordan Mechner: The movie is mostly based off The Sands of Time, the 2003 game that I did with Ubisoft. Rather than doing a literal re-telling of the game, what I pitched to Jerry and Disney in 2004, it's characters and elements - we have some of the coolest elements of the game - reconfigured into the story of a big-screen movie. That's what we set out to do.
Jerry Bruckheimer: Jordan wrote the first two drafts of the script, so he was very involved. The fact that he's here means he likes the movie, so that always helps. You won't be reading him online saying 'Don't see it.'
So if you play through the game, you're going to recognize a lot of the characters in the film?
Jordan Mechner: Yeah, although, if you play the game, you're not going to know what happens in the movie. It's a different story, but yet you'll recognize the characters in a different form. I think it's very true to the spirit of the game.
In adapting this, were there any other elements of any other versions of Prince of Persia that you borrowed or thought would be useful to include as nods to the fans?
Jordan Mechner: At the time that I wrote the first draft of the script, those other games hadn't come out yet, so the screenplay was based off The Sands of Time. But, as you could probably see in the trailer, the production side took a lot of inspiration from the later games as well, with Jake's costume, certainly.
Are there any of the creatures from The Sands of Time that I would remember fighting in the game? Did you specifically not want to have any creatures?
Jordan Mechner: That's a really good, specific example of what we're talking about before. There are no sand monsters in the movie. For the game, turning everybody in the world except for the two main characters, into sand monsters, was really useful because it created an inexhaustible supply of enemies for the player to fight. That's a story that's meant to be played with a controller in your hand and a movie is an experience that's supposed to be a ride you have to go on, shared by an audience. So we didn't want to make the movie about fighting monsters.
You said before that if you played the game you're not going to know what happened in the movie, so where did you come up with the concept of the film?
Jerry Bruckheimer: It's more of a biblical tale. It's a street urchin who gets picked up by the king and made a prince and all the family dynamics that happen with these two brothers who are not really his brothers, not by birth. That's the start of the drama, and an uncle who's jealous of all of it.
Jordan Mechner: And this really cool dagger that can turn back time.
Judging from the trailer, they are sort of on a quest where they have to take this dagger back to a certain temple, to get rid of it, I suppse?
Jerry Bruckheimer: It's sort of part of the story, yes, to safeguard the dagger from people who are trying to get their hands on it.
Can you talk about the casting of Jake (Gyllenhaal), and what you saw in him that made him a right fit?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I always thought he was, and still think he is, a huge movie star. He's a huge hero, romantic hero, and I've always wanted to work with him, and I got very lucky that he was available to do it. There was no other choice.
Can you talk about the kind of physical training he had to go through?
Jerry Bruckheimer: A lot. I mean, he really worked hard. He worked for months and months before we started. He trained every single day, rode bikes, lifted weights, had a very specific diet. He couldn't eat any fats and he had to have a lot of protein. All during the filming he was working out and he kept it up through the whole thing.
What do you have to do to modern-day Morocco to make it look like ancient Persia?
Jerry Bruckheimer: It's just sand. They have plenty of it there. No, what we did was we had a fantastic production designer who created these sets. We actually built a lot of what you saw. The only thing we had to add was some set extensions, but a lot of the stuff you see is stuff we built or we would take structures in Morocco and add structures to these old structures. We found an old part of the city, one of the most ancients parts of the city, that we got to use.
Jordan Mechner: That was actually my first week on set. I couldn't tell where the real city ended and the set began. There were real people walking through the streets and I couldn't tell if they were extras or if they were people living there.
Jerry Bruckheimer: It stopped in time. Some of the sets are in the Atlas Mountains, and as you're driving up there, there's no electricity. People are carrying stuff on their heads, carrying they're children, it's unbelievable. It's like we're back in the 6th Century.
Jordan Mechner: That's one of the things that was so cool for me. It was such a surprise coming from the video game world, where I was so used to finding various ways of making this look cool on the screen, to actually being in the desert where it's 125 degrees and there's real sandstorms. How many movies have you seen where there's a scene in a desert oasis and it's a set? This was a real desert oasis. The fact that, besides all the action and the adventure story aspects of it, this is an epic movie that's shot on location on a scale that hasn't been seen on the screen, in this way, ever. So I think that really brought the production up to another level, because it's not what people expect.
How much parkour training was there, and did you bring in any experts we might recognize?
Jerry Bruckheimer: We brought in the key experts out of France. In the beginning of the movie, there is a young man that betrays Jake as a young boy, and he was a parkour expert. He's 10 years old and he's amazing, absolutely amazing.
You talked about the differences of the video game and the film. Can you talk about the challenges you came up against with your brain traditionally going one way, and wrapping it around a cinematic sort of framework?
Jordan Mechner: Yeah, well I loved movies growing up, even before I loved games and before video games were even invented. This was a video game that was inspired by movies, so I think, in writing the first draft of the screenplay, I just kind of set about to write a movie in that genre, a kind of movie I love that inspired me to create the game in the first place.
How often is the dagger used throughout the movie, and is it being used because Jake is screwing something up, or is he trying to fix events that are happening around him?
Jerry Bruckheimer: Both. It happened by accident, originally, then he uses it to try to fix something that is going terribly wrong.
So the dagger can't fix outside events that he's not involved with?
Jerry Bruckheimer: He can turn back time.
Jordan Mechner: Basically, in the game, if you make a mistake and you're falling to your death, you can actually push the switch on the dagger's handle and it brings you back to the moment before you made the mistake, so you can actually avoid mistakes. People around you aren't going to be able to know that you did that.
So there might be scenes in this movie where Jake's falling to his death and he can actually use the dagger to get out of it?
Jerry Bruckheimer: If he has it (Laughs).
Jordan Mechner: This gets to a difference between the game and the movie. In the game, the dagger has so many powers and you're using it all the time. If we did that in the movie, the hero would've been omnipotent, and it wouldn't have been very interesting. In the movie, there's a lot of constraints and he's got to be very careful of how he uses the dagger.
Jerry Bruckheimer: We didn't, but somebody else did. Nic Cage and some other people decided it'd be kinda cool to do and came to us. We developed the screenplay with them and took this little moment in Fantasia and created an entire story.
How crazy is Nic going to be in The Sorcerer's Apprentice?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I think he's a wonderful mystical character in it. He's really a character. It's certainly Nic Cage you want to watch on screen. You're never quite sure what he's going to do or how he's going to react.
With the comments that Bob Iger recently made, it seems there is a paradigm shift. How do you move forward?
Jerry Bruckheimer: We take direction from whoever our financier is and in this case we have a deal with Disney. Disney decided a few years ago they wanted to make more family-orientated pictures and we made Pirates of the Caribbean so we made National Treasure. We adjust to the people who are paying for this and what they want to make. We develop stories we feel will benefit them not only in a financial, but in a way that crosses all the different platforms. "Pirates" is a great example. It crosses many platforms. Michael Singer, who works with us, was at Disneyland over the weekend and he said there was an hour wait to get into the Pirates of the Caribbean. You can see how a movie can affect and change the ride itself and the characters. So it benefits everybody.
There's a worry about Johnny Depp's commitment to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Are you going to be able to make him comfortable with the new people at Disney?
Jerry Bruckheimer: I think that he was very close with Dick [Cook]. We loved him and part of our success is attributed to Dick which is fantastic, but things change. We've been through a ton of management here at Disney and have had many bosses through the years that I've been here. Somehow you adjust and the gentleman they brought in is very smart. As an executive he's had an enormous amount of success. He's been a very good partner to us, but that doesn't mean we won't work with Dick somewhere else down the line. Who knows. We'll just have to see what happens.
We read you're adapting another game, Shattered Union.
Jerry Bruckheimer: It's something we're developing which takes years. When did you sell this to us, '04?
Jordan Mechner: '04.
Jerry Bruckheimer: So it took us five years to get this one going.
What's your attraction to the video game world?
Jerry Bruckheimer: It's fascinating. It's always the concept. Two reasons: Concept, characters, theme and pre-sold title. If you go online and read his blogs, people blog about Prince of Persia and its unbelievable the fan base that he has for his game. We had all gamer press before you came in and they're so excited to see this and skeptical to be quite honest. Skeptical we picked Jake and weren't sure if he was the right for the character, but when they saw this, they got very excited. They all applauded at the end of it and felt it was true to what Jordan had originally created. They go back to his first game and were asking me questions about a game he created in '89. They're talking about a game they played in '89 and asked if this character is in it so they're really into this.
You're a busy guy so do you stay on top of what's happening in video games?
Jerry Bruckheimer: This is my genesis here that keeps me current. That's how we do it. As I get older, I lean more and more on younger people to bring me stuff that I might not be aware of, but make me aware of it.
What's your take on making the The Lone Ranger current for today's audience?
Jerry Bruckheimer: (Ted) Elliot and (Terry) Rossio worked on that with a couple of other writers and Johnny [Depp] so they'll create something that has a kind of true to the western, but also other elements like we did with "Pirates" so it won't be just a straight ahead western.
We know Johnny Depp wants to play Tonto. Do you have any thoughts as to who the ranger would be?
Jerry Bruckheimer: Not yet. We're still creating a pretty wide net and figuring it out. It comes down to who is available when we want to make it. We have a wish list, but we were lucky on this one. Our wish list came through
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley, Toby Kebbell and will be released in theaters nationwide on May 28, 2010.